Creating Holiday Connections When You Aren’t Able to Be Together In Person
This year, due to the pandemic, many of us will not be able to gather with family members for the holidays as we typically do. When our loved one is living with dementia and we aren’t able to be with them, finding a way to connect can feel especially challenging. However, Teepa and Positive Approach to Care® do have a few suggestions for connecting when you can’t be together in person:
Manage your own expectations
When someone is living with brain change, they may or may not have the ability to have a long or involved phone conversation or video chat. Having an expectation of being able to engage in a lengthy conversation or expecting them to recall things they may not be able to, can often result in disappointment.
Keep in mind that the goal is to create moments of connection, however small or minor they may appear to be. In the later states of dementia, these moments may be even smaller or shorter. For example, watch for a spark in their eye, or a lift in their tone of voice. Also, if interest or a connection doesn’t seem to be happening on a particular day, don’t be afraid to try again – and again.
Match to their abilities
Someone who may be in a very early state of dementia, which at Positive Approach to Care® we refer to as a Diamond State, typically has a lot of language, visual field, and fine motor skill remaining. However, in a later state of dementia, such as the Ruby State, language, vision, and fine motor skill may be quite limited.
When you have awareness and understanding of the GEMS State of an individual, you are able to match your conversation or activity to what they are able to do. This helps to reduce frustration and disappointment for both of you. To see an example of how one simple craft can be applied to different GEMS States, please watch the three videos below. (If you are not familiar with Teepa’s GEMS States and would like to learn more, please click here.)
Early Stage (Diamond / Emerald State) Activity:
Mid to Later Stage (Emerald / Amber State) Activity:
Later Stage (Ruby / Pearl State) Activity:
Choose your words carefully
When someone is living with dementia, the words you choose really do make a difference. For instance, instead of telling someone that you are going to create a craft with them over video chat, it is often much more effective to ask them for their help or assistance. For instance, “Hey, Mom, I was wondering if you could help me with something? You were always so good at crafts.” Or, if you were wanting to listen to Christmas music with your uncle over the phone, you could say something like, “Uncle Frank, you know a lot about music, and I could really use your thoughts about which song is best.” Asking for their assistance and complimenting their expertise helps a person feel they are valued (this is true for those living with healthy brains, as well!)
Also related to words, remember that as dementia progresses, the ability to process language is significantly slowed for most individuals. So, the more words you provide them, the more confusing and overwhelming it often becomes. Using fewer words and speaking at a slower rate is extremely helpful so that your message can be received and understood. You will see examples of this in the video below.
We have created a list with many ideas for connecting over the phone or video chat during this holiday season; please click here to access it. Many of the ideas can be applied to other times of the year, as well.
We at Positive Approach to Care® wish you and your families many moments of joy this unusual holiday season.